In America we have many stereotypes for people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Now before I start, I want to make it clear that I adhere to the psychological perspective of  stereotypes as erroneous generalizations fed by peoples misconceptions of schemas. 

Evolution and Stereotypes

People use stereotypes because as humans we like to use categories so we can make quick decisions. When humans were hunter gatherers if we saw someone who didn't look like us, this was a red flag. The person could be from another tribe and this could lead to a confrontation and a competition for resources.Thus stereotypes were a useful tool in recognizing your allies and enemies. But this was a long time ago and needs to be done away with.

Stereotypes in Japan

As I mentioned in the U.S. we have stereotypes and break them down from race to ethnicity. In Japan they do something similar for other Asian groups such as for Chinese and Koreans. But when it comes to foreigners, we are all Gaijin ( or Gaikokujin if you want to be polite).

It's funny because Gaijin is considered by some to be a strong way of saying foreigner. Essentially any Non-Japanese person is a Gaijin.I have spoken to many Japanese people about their perceptions of Gaijins and here are some common stereotypes:

  •  All Gaijin are loud, touchy and smile a lot 
  • They are always happy for no reason but can be prone to aggressive behavior
  • They are strong and very good at any sport

The interesting is that these stereotypes are applied to all Non-Japanese looking people. Unlike the U.S. breakdown between race and ethnicity,these generalizations are being applied to a larger range of people. Thus they lead to many more errors in judgment. 

When Traveling Abroad

One of my friends once asked one of his clients what stood out the most when traveling to the U.S. for the first time and they said:

There were so many Gaijin!

The funny thing here is that as the Japanese person is perceiving everyone to be a foreigner, they in fact were the foreigner in this situation.

Oh the tangled web stereotypes weave.

What it comes down to is that this type of thinking lays the  groundwork  for a multiple layer of misunderstandings.

American Stereotypes

Now less cross-compare stereotypes Americans have about Japanese people:

  • All Asians look alike Japanese, Chinese they are all the same
  • ll Japanese people do martial arts
  • Japanese women are beautiful but Japanese men are not considered attractive by American Women
  • Japanese people are always doing something crazy and they sell used women underwear from vending machines

My list can go on and easily become more offensive. In fact many of the stereotypes that Americans have about Japanese people are generalized to most Asians. I remember I tried introducing an American girl to my Japanese friend and she laughed as if I was joking. She said:

He can barely speak English and I don't understand anything he says

My Japanese friend had been living in the U.S for about 4 years and his English was good enough to study business at our local college. But she just couldn't get over his accent. 

In another incident I saw a post of a social experiment of American women being asked if Asian men were attractive. The first response was laughter. They couldn't even take the question seriously. 

Deeper understanding

In many ways I think American stereotypes are a little more negative. But I want to remind everyone that using stereotypes never leads to anything good. 

With Prime Minister Abe preparing the Japanese population for an influx of tourism expected for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. These stereotypes need to be broken down.

Yes it's true that stereotypes are an easy way to categorize people. In some cases they may be true. But using stereotypes can take away from the experience of getting to know individuals on a deeper level. 

I would hope both Gaikokujin and Japanese people can realize this. It is to the benefit for us as visitors to Japan and Japanese people to have an open mind. This works both ways. 

Social Gelo with Angelo

Angelo Ferrer (M.S. Psychology)

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